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    Hell in a Southeastern commuter train stuck at Lewisham – Southeastern’ s Response

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    Through persistent nagging emails I have managed to get a response from Southeastern from my original article describing the conditions on the 2nd March incident at Lewisham.

    The response is as follows:

    Dear Mr Clarke

    Thank you very much for your emails on 4, 5 and 6 March regarding the difficult journey you had home from London Bridge on Friday 2 March. While this doesn’t change what happened, we are incredibly sorry.

    Having read your blog, it’s certainly given us a detailed insight of the uncomfortable position you were in.

    To explain what happened in more detail, we were continuously monitoring the weather and due to deteriorating conditions, we agreed with Network Rail to implement our Key Route Strategy Timetable. This meant reducing services on all routes, closing stations and running trains at different times to the normal timetable. Some services were then busier than normal which caused overcrowding that evening. We are sorry to hear that your calves are still in pain, as it has been nearly a week we would advise you to seek medical advice from your doctor.

    The train in front of yours then became stranded on the approach to Lewisham station. This was due to ice and snow building and compacting on the conductor rail – also known as the third rail. The train-to-track contacts (the “shoe gears”) were losing touch with the rail, and becoming isolated from the current. This then led to the train losing power and not being able to move.

    While stationary, more and more snow fell and froze against the freezing metal. This set around the shoe gears, encasing them in ice, preventing further movement or contact. In order to clear this, it had to be manually removed, and so power to nearby track sections had to be switched off to allow Network Rail work teams to the site. This did have the downside of turning off the lights and heaters on the trains affected, and we’re sorry that this had to happen. The problem they had was that as the shoe gears were freed, they were immediately icing up again, and with 16 shoes for an 8-carriage train, this was quite a difficult situation.

    During this time, more and more trains were being caught up in the congestion caused. With several thousand passengers stranded across at least 10 trains, a decision was made to keep everyone where they were safest: on the train. Unfortunately, this wasn’t well communicated to or accepted by everyone, and many took it upon themselves to get off the train without permission or assistance, such as you noticed with several passengers from your carriage. This wasn’t just an isolated incident, but was happening on several trains.

    While we understand the reasoning behind their actions, especially based on your description of conditions aboard the trains, it’s something that we cannot condone under any circumstances unless there is something onboard the train that is an immediate threat to life.

    As you’ve since discovered, there’s a 2-day course on Personal Track Safety, as the railways are so dangerous. Not only is there the issue of the live third rail, but other train movements, trip hazards, and uneven surfaces (particularly in the cold, dark) are dangerous too. The passengers who got off the train realised this, and were wise to get back on board, despite the initial danger they’d put themselves in.

    However, there were many who didn’t do this, and remained on the tracks, or made the treacherous journey towards a nearby station. Because of this, Network Rail had to shut off track power in a full 3-mile radius, stranding more trains, and preventing rescue vehicles from attending. Passenger safety is of the utmost importance, and this was the correct action for them to take as soon as drivers reported non-permitted egresses from their trains.

    So, while passengers were safely aboard their trains (even if incredibly uncomfortable), the authorities were having to rescue those who had stranded themselves on the tracks. This, of course, further prolonged the experience for everyone, all the while teams were working on rescuing the trains from the ever-worsening conditions. The Duty Station Manager who was working on Friday evening contacted and utilised all members of staff that were available to him.  We would like to thank you for assisting the lady off the train, and can appreciate what a help and relief that was to her at that time.

    We welcome the investigation from the Rail Accident and Investigation Branch (RAIB) into what happened that evening, as we feel that a lot can be learned from this. Not just by Southeastern, but by all of our industry partners that were involved. We’re also working with Network Rail to arrange a separate, independent, investigation into what happened across the week as a whole.

    Due to the unprecedented volume of incoming Tweets, we drafted in members from other departments, and reverted the system to its basic role of providing service information updates. The Tweet you have referred to in the blog has also been picked up, and is being addressed by our senior managers.

    You also commented on the type of trains being used, as the one that failed ahead of you was one of our older Class 465 Networkers. While it’s true that this fleet was built in the early- to mid-90s, the trains have gone through two full refreshes in their time with us. They’re perfectly serviceable, and see just as much use as our newer fleets, but are coming towards the end of their lifespan. To this end, the DfT has requested that new trains be brought to the network for the upcoming franchise for London and the South East, which is due to start in early 2019.

    This is because it’s not the train operators who invest in the acquisition of the rolling stock, but the DfT through the various Rolling Stock Operating Companies. Each fleet is assigned to a franchise, and so is inherited by the train operator, at which point it becomes our responsibility to keep and maintain them. We’re hopeful that this investment in new trains will see improvements for passengers across Kent, East Sussex, and South London over the coming years.

    As you know, in terms of compensation for all journeys between 27 February and 2 March that were disrupted by the snow and ice, we’re doubling Delay Repay payments. As per your tweet last night I understand you have already submitted a claim and received confirmation that the Delay Repay element of your claim has been processed.

    Further to this, as you were stuck on one of the stranded trains for several hours, we’re increasing this to a total amount of £100. Therefore, I’ve arranged a separate cheque for £81 to bring this up to the promised £100 (this amount also includes £8 to cover the maximum Oyster fare you were charged). This should be with you in the next 14 days. Please also encourage your sister’s boyfriend (and anyone else you know who was trapped) to also claim, and get in touch (www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/contact-us) so we can get this arranged for them.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to get in touch, we’re extremely sorry for what happened that evening, and would like to assure you that lessons will be learned. I hope that future journeys with us prove to be significantly easier, and trouble-free.

    Yours sincerely

    Christine Heynes
    Senior Customer Relations Manager
    Southeastern

    While I appreciate the response (and the compensation) I am still sceptical that if the same thing were to happen again they would deal with it in exactly the same way.  I also think that if Twitter is going to be the preferred communications medium for Southeastern it needs a lot of work.  I have heard complaints from many that have been blocked unnecessarily for what feels like a personal grudge on behalf of the Southeastern Twitter operator.  Perhaps the block list should be wiped clean and the Southeastern Twitter team need to deal with unruly tweets another way – like ignoring them.  Its clear that nothing has been done so far to bring any sort of professionalism to their social media team or insensitive tweets such as the below would not be being sent.  This is not a game, when people are late due to train delays it causes stress, anxiety and panic as not all employers are sympathetic.

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    For anyone that was caught up in the Lewisham incident you will have to phone Southeastern on 0345 322 7021 and someone will be able to up your double delay repay to £100 as they did for me.  Simply filling in the contact form was not sufficient and I wasn’t able to access the extra compensation until I made the phone call.

    Lets hope that as the snow falls to the ground today Southeastern are prepared and that we don’t end up with a repeat of the disasters that occurred at the beginning of the month.

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    Hell in a Southeastern commuter train stuck at Lewisham

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    I’ve heard so many conflicting accounts of what happened on Friday, many of them not entirely true and obviously orchestrated by Southeastern’s press team.  I thought I’d pen down what actually happened as it unfolded in-front of me from the point of view of the passenger.

    The beginning

    Friday was a pretty hectic day for me as it probably was for most other commuters to central London.  The journey in in the morning had been long and tiring due to Southeastern ceasing all Cannon Street trains to and from my home station of Eltham.  I completed my working day (unable to get away early due to starting a new job) and apprehensively made my way to London Bridge station.  To my surprise there was a train headed for Dartford via Bexleyheath (exactly what I wanted) just pulling in to London Bridge.  The platform had already reached dangerous levels of overcrowding though and I doubted I would be able to get near the train even if the door stopped right next to me.  As it turns out the door stopped nowhere near me and it wouldn’t have made any difference as the train was already at bursting point from the passengers at London Charing Cross boarding.  I remember that this was one of the older style trains that has smaller doorway section and more seating. (relevant later on)

    There was then an announcement that another train for Dartford via Bexleyheath was to follow close behind (The 16:35). There was a bit of excitement as there was a platform change from 7 to 6 and a stampede as people braced themselves to get on. Sure enough this train came in about 5 minutes later, you could feel the collective sinking of hearts when all the passengers saw that this one was also bursting at the seams.  Somehow I managed to squeeze on and fit into a tiny space just inside the doorway.  Then more people piled in behind me and it started to get hard to breathe let alone move.  I kept telling myself this is only a 15 minute journey, I can survive these conditions for this small amount of time.  Little did I know what was coming.

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    The ill fated 16:35 from London Bridge had a few surprises in store for its passengers…

    The ill fated 16:35 from London Bridge

    Things seemed to be going well, the train was moving slowly but steadily at about 20MPH and I could just about see from the tiny piece of window that wasn’t obfuscated that we were nearing Lewisham station.  It was at this point that the train slowed to a gradual stop.  Everyone in my carriage began to groan, it had only been about 10 minutes but the extremely cramped conditions meant that people were forced into very uncomfortable positions.  We all just wanted to get off of the train, even at this point.  After a few minutes the driver made an announcement (I think his name was Luke).  He said that there was a problem with the train in front and due to this being an older model train (I suspect the one I just missed earlier) it was having trouble getting enough power to clear the station.  Until this train could clear the station the signalman kept the red light on.

    Another 15 minutes passed and the driver made another announcement, the train in front should be able to move but it will be going very very slowly and as we were stuck behind it we would be following it the whole way.  People were getting a bit restless at this point and many started calling loved ones and updating them as to what was going on.  Others like me started looking at getting off at Lewisham and finding alternative routes home from there.  Another 30 minutes passed and the driver made another announcement, the train in front was in real trouble, it was completely stuck and could not go anywhere.  The other passengers and I all started to look at each other in despair, ‘ok where does that leave us’ one man commented.  We then had what felt like an eternity of silence and being extremely uncomfortable being bent into strange shapes to fit into the packed carriage.  Once the first hour had passed with no real hope of a resolution many of us started to realise that this is only going to get worse.

    The situation worsens…

    Time just kept passing by and as the 2nd hour on-board approached many of the ‘human’ problems that long haul trains are equipped to cope with started become of real concern.  I myself needed the toilet but was not in desperate need, others were getting quite upset about it and started to face the realisation that they will need to either find a bottle (which is obviously easier for a man) or face the humiliation of wetting yourself – or worse. After the second hour had passed the driver announced that there was no hope of getting the train in front moving due to the conductor rail being iced up.  Southeastern were going to cut the power to the line and actually de-ice the thing manually by hand!  There were lots of shouts and cries out at this point as we just wanted off of this train.  We should be being evacuated not waiting for Southeastern to make a half-arsed attempt at spraying some car de-icer on the train track.  Incidentally I want to make a note at this point of stating that the driver mentioned that our train would have been fine to plough through this problem and this was something the old trains (that should have been replaced a LONG time ago) suffered with.  I guess our expensive fares are better spent on Southeastern fat-cat bonuses rather than actual working trains – for their train business eh?

    After this announcement we were again greeted with another 30 minutes of silence.  We were on the way to a 3rd hour in this horrendous situation, my calves were on fire from the awkward position i was standing in and the need for basic amenities like a toilet break or a drink were all I could think about.  I could here several people in the carriage crying and the smell of urine had become apparent.  I really felt for the elderly people on the carriage, people had given up their seats for them but they looked very uncomfortable to say the least.  An older lady I spoke to would not usually have made a trip like this, especially in this weather but had no choice as her granddaughter had just been rushed to Lewisham hospital.  This line for many is a vital artery into and out of the city for so many, it just feels so wrong that it is treated like an exploratory business venture for a greedy corporation – not the essential service that it is.  As Southeastern had cut the power to the line (so that they could de-ice it) we had no lighting and now heat.  The cold crept in incredibly fast and I along with several others around me were just amazed that we were in this situation.  We still hadn’t heard anything from Southeastern at this point about what was going on or how they were going to get us out of this mess.

    And then all hell breaks loose

    Almost nearing the 3rd hour and the driver apologises again sympathising with the horrible conditions behind him and how if it was up to him he would be leading us off of the train and up to the station platform, he also mentioned or pleaded with people not to pull the emergency door releases and jump off of the train as it would hold things up even more.  This is when some people in my carriage started to discuss the possibility of pulling the door release and jumping off of the train, walking down the track and walking out through the platform.  It was only talk but 3 hours in we started to wonder if we had been forgotten and were going to be here all night.  Most people’s legs had seized up and I’d lost the feeling in pretty much all my extremities.  The carriage was beginning to get very very cold without any heating and some of the older passengers were visibly shivering.

    It was some of the younger passengers that pulled the door release.  A guy literally forced his way through the crowd of people and pulled the handle.  The small group clambered down off of the train to whatever was below.  (I had no idea, without lighting it was so dark it was impossible to see).  These were only kids making an impulsive move not commuters on their way home from work.  I could see however that people were watching on and wondering if this was a good idea.  The group used their phone lights to find a way out and it actually was a lot more daunting than they realised.  The track was sealed by high fences either side, the rails (which may have still been live in places) were covered by the snow, the track was perched atop of an icy slope either side and the only place to walk was on the track where oncoming trains would come.  This coupled with the threat of a thousands of pounds worth of fines from Southeastern for trespassing was enough for me to decided against such a move.  (I later read it takes a two day training course to learn how to not kill yourself being track-side)  The kids that had jumped down must have quickly realised the same as they clambered back on to the packed carriage.  Many of the other passengers were annoyed that they had done this as it was nearing a blizzard outside and now the doors were forced open – it was basically snowing inside.

    Another announcement came from the driver, we all knew what he was going to say.  A passenger had pulled the emergency door release and this was going to slow down things a lot more.  We all stood their shivering, desperate for the toilet, hungry and many people were very upset.  The darkness offered its own problems, there was some form of emergency lighting but it was not great.  I heard a woman scream out for someone to stop touching her, I do not believe there was anything malicious at play but people were all at breaking point.  A few arguments broke out between passengers (which was worrying with no one to police them) but for the most part there was just hushed chats and silence.

    As we crept towards the fourth hour we started to hear announcements from a Southeastern manager.  He announced that they were trying to figure out a way to get us off the train (had they just started at this point?!).  Then he later announced that he needed to reset something on all of the trains doors which would take a further 30 minutes!  There was some very angry shouting and screaming at this point.  Another single minute on this train would be hell and to be told we had to wait 30?  It was downright torture.  Why did this have to be done why could they not just walk us back to the platform safely? After all the power had been cut to the line so that they could rescue the broken down train in front of us.  True to his word this process did take over 30 minutes.  The driver incidentally kept telling us that he had a plan to get us off the train and walk us back to the platform but no one at Southeastern would sign off on it.  Concern for safety or some major arse covering going on?  I would hate to think that this whole affair interrupted the guy in charge’s Friday night dinner plans so he would have to make a decision.  We then waited, again for what seems like an eternity for something to happen and we spotted a police officer who chatted with us in the doorway.  This was the FIRST person (who was not a passenger) we had seen in over 4 hours.

    The Evacuation

    About 5 minutes after seeing the police officer we started to spot some London Fire Brigade Firemen (and women).  I thought I was dreaming when I saw the guy in front of me slide into a seated position by the door and be carried down to the track by the firemen. We were saved!  I waited for my turn to be helped down (which was insanely hard and painful as my legs were completely seized up – and I am a healthy 38 year old male.).  The Fire Brigade were fantastic and had lined the whole path down the track with their staff (and even gritted part of it for us).  I waited for some family members (who by pure chance) were in the next carriage along and we started the journey down the track.  It was further and more hazardous than I had realised and I along with those that opened the doors were pleased we had waited for the Fire Brigade’s help.  Along with my sister’s boyfriend we helped an old lady down the track and down to the bus stop at Lewisham.  If we had not helped her find her family I fear she would have been in an even worse state.  I kind of expected there to be some Southeastern staff on hand at the Lewisham station exit to offer some assistance to the people needing it – there was nothing.  In fact we all actually took one more slap in the face as due to the ridiculous amount of time we had spent on what should have been a 4.8 mile journey our tickets had all been charged inflated fares!  So I was basically fined for this ordeal.

    Southeastern’s failings

    This list could go on forever but I’ll keep it restricted to the context of this event.  Some of the things that should have happened and that the blame for is leveled squarely at their door:

    1. Update your old knackered equipment.  Its simple – we pay you for a service which includes buying and maintaining trains that are up to the task.  The driver drives the trains yes? So he knows which ones work in the snow and which ones don’t yes? He said the older style don’t work so replace them, its what we pay you for.  Cutting corners for bonus payments is no longer an option.

    2. Follow official guidelines when a train is broken down and unlikely to move.  This document makes it quite clear that we should NOT have been detained for this ridiculous length of time.  You broke all codes of health and safety.

    3. If it is impossible to evacuate a train like this OFFER SOME FORM OF ASSISTANCE TO PASSENGERS!!!! One of your staff was bragging on Twitter about his two day course to be able to be track-side.  That great, so use it – bring blankets, hot drinks, food and offer medical assistance.  There were many elderly people that needed medication etc. that couldn’t ask anyone official for help.

    4. Fire your existing Twitter team and hire a professional social media team.  Many people turned to this as a vital source of information and we get things like the below?  Come on this is 2018, get some professional staff in.  Their answer to anything they don’t want to hear seems to be to block users.  This is a critical public service – I suggest the power to block users is taken away from these people who are abusing it.

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    5. Give passengers immediate compensation.  Many of us were actually overcharged for this ordeal you put us through and your wishy-washy response of ‘looking into’ compensation is not good enough.  A senior manager should make immediate reparations for the damage caused.  also make sure you publicise where to get compensation well and don’t hide it in the deepest, darkest depths of your website.

    6. Stop breaking the law.  The amount of health and safety laws you and your staff broke here is astounding and yet the government doe not hold you to account?  Yes we have Chris Grayling to thank for this but take some responsibility.  Do your management actually have any notion of a duty of care towards your customers?

    7. Listen to your drivers.  They are ‘in the field’, ‘the boots on the ground’ they can assess and take action in these situations.  The drivers take the lives of thousands of people in their hands daily.  It was extremely frustrating to hear that the driver had a plan to get us out that he wanted to implement but was having his hands tied by a ‘suit’ somewhere that had no idea of the situation.  Plane pilots can make these decisions, train drivers should be able too as well.

    I guess until we get some proper legislation in place customers lives will continue to mean nothing to Southeastern and their staff – its part of their culture.  This situation has proved that like the airlines the train companies and their staff should all be under pressure to get things like this right – first time and have all the correct contingencies in place.

    Useful Information for those affected

    1. Southeastern told me to go here to fill out a form for compensation, although they don’t say what this is yet.

    2. I have created a petition to get a Government ran (Not Southeastern) inquest into what happened here.  The petition is waiting to be checked but keep checking here to see if its published yet.

    3. There is a useful Facebook group here with information and discussion from all the passengers affected.

    4. What Southeastern SHOULD have done when they realised the train was stranded here.

    I’ve tried to keep this as factual as possible and written events as they occurred.  However if anyone has any suggestion etc. please leave a comment below.

    Thanks

    Robin

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    What are the best toys for a child’s birthday in 2018?

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    The question asked by parents worldwide when looking to make a birthday special for their little ones, what are the best toys released for this year and which will make the best gifts?

    The year is 2018, we are in the age of advanced micro-chips, self-driving cars and passenger space flight.  Surely then by now the toys our children are playing with are so ridiculously high tech that they are unrecognisable from the toys that we played with when we were children?

    Fortunately no, toys today are not very far removed from toys back in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  Children still enjoy playing with dolls, Lego and transformers action figures.  While there is a spattering of tech thrown at the toys of today’s world the actual base products are just variations on the same theme that has been enjoyed by generations of children for over 40 years.  Perhaps the toys that have seen the most meteoric rise are in fact the well-known classics that have just gone from strength to strength.  As mums and dads remember playing with these toys themselves they pass on these sentiments in product form to their offspring as each year passes with a retro influenced fondness.

    1. The Lego Ninjago Green Ninja Mech Dragon

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    Love them or hate them Lego movies have become a big feature of 2017 cinema history.  At times they do just seem to be screaming product endorsements but hey, kids seem to love them so – so what.  If like me you have been dragged around Legoland Windsor one too many times your kids will no doubt have spotted this shining green Ninjago Dragon toy strategically placed to be seen as soon as you exit the Lego Ninjago ride.

    If you want a more detailed break-down (excuse the pun) of the Mech Dragon it may be worth paying a visit here where the science of Lego is put to the test.  In a much simpler derivative of this analysis though the toy was fun to put together and play with and for fans of the film it will be welcomed.  Perhaps for slightly older children (youngsters tend to just smash every Lego set into an unrecognisable pile of bricks) it is a great addition to the Lego Ninjago family.

    Buy the Lego Ninjago Green Ninja Mech Dragon from Amazon

    2. The Luvabella doll

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    So you’ve probably heard about it and I’m pretty sure that you’ve also heard about the rather insane price (for a doll) so what an earth is all the hype about?  The price is largely thanks the technology involved in making Luvabella come to life.  Just some of the things she does are learn new words and phrases (up to 100 so could probably outsmart most of the current cabinet ministers) and she has a very affectionate personality which is realised in the way that she moves when you are around.  Luvabella also reacts to her accessories, if you have ever played the Tom cat game on the iPhone I guess you could think of her as a real life version of that.  Watching a child play with Luvabella is quite impressive and they do seem to get a lot out of the interaction.

    Overall a pricey toy but this is a cut above a bog standard, run-of-the-mill doll and has more in common with Data from Star Trek than it does Barbie.  Word on the street (mainly Mumsnet) however is that these dolls have become like gold dust and you have a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of finding one of these available for purchase.  See Luvabella in action here!

    Buy the Luvabella doll from Amazon

    3. The Star Wars Bladebuilders Path of the Force Lightsaber

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    Anyone with boys will undoubtedly already own a number of toy swords/Lightsabers.  The beauty of this toy is that it is highly customisable so the little one can make the decision on whether to turn to good or dark side in an instant.  We liked the ability to change Lightsabre blade colours and the interchangeable accessories.  I would warrant a guess that my two would either break the plastic or the light/sound functionality within minutes but if your child is a bit more conservative with their blows it may last a bit longer.

    See what the sabre can do here:

    Buy the Star Wars Bladebuilders Path of the Force Lightsaber from Amazon

    4. Dance and Move BeatBo

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    Its not all about toys for big kids!  This funky little robot shakes his hips and nods his head to the music.  All designed to enhance baby’s motor skills BeatBo has music, songs, phrases, lights and many different bright colors to stimulate the tiny one’s senses.  BeatBo also has a record function which he can mix into a song.  I would just like to take this opportunity to say that when tested BeatBo no rude words were used and that when baby is asleep this should not be played with after any alcohol is consumed (!).  Joking aside its a pretty good baby toy and relatively inexpensive so its easy to see why it sells so well.

    Buy Dance and Move BeatBo from Amazon

    5. Fingerlings

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    A bit of a surprise hit this one that no one saw coming.  I mean the premise of the toys is very basic, its essentially a small toy that clips on to your finger, makes noises and moves a bit.  However it has taken the world by storm!  Just try and get hold of an official WowWee fingerlings toy anywhere and you will just be staring at the sign where they used to be and an empty shelf.  Ask a toy retailer about a WowWee Fingerling? they will laugh you out of the building for your absurd and ridiculous attempt at buying something that for all many of us know doesn’t even exist – they have become that rare.

    See the Fingerlings in action!

    So a bit more about the toy itself, as discussed the Fingerling grabs hold of your finger and responds to sound and motion.  Fingerlings also have blinking eyes, turn their heads, make silly noises and blow kisses at you.  To be fair they are very cute, but why they have become hyped out of existence is beyond me.  Kids absolutely LOVE them.  Some of the big plus points with this toy are that it is extremely durable so will most probably last a while, it is small (great for car journeys) and the batteries last forever.

    Buy a WowWee Fingerling from Amazon (if you should be so lucky!)

    6. The FurReal Roarin’ Tyler

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    As toys begin to get more and more advanced what was once state of the art technology worth tens of thousands of pounds has now become something that costs the equivalent of a night out on the town.  Tyler, simply put is awesome.  This little guy has to be seen to be believed, for fans of the original Gremlins movie (stay with me here) having Tyler on my lap while watching TV almost felt like I have my own real life Gizmo – he is soooo cute!

    Whilst Tyler is expensive this toy is something special and should only really be given to a child that really looks after their toys or is gentle of nature.  What you have here is basically a cute, lovable teddy bear that moves and makes sweet sounds all to love you right back.

    Here is little Tyler in action, I think you’ll agree that the cuteness is off the scale!

    Buy FurReal Roarin’ Tyler from Amazon

    7. The Disney Cars 3 Movie Moves Lightening McQueen

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    Considering that this toy comes in a lot cheaper than most of the other popular toys on offer this year it is actually very impressive.  Movie Moves Lightening McQueen reacts to motion and can move in all directions.  Most impressive was the way that his eyes moved in the same way that they do in the movies giving this toy a very realistic edge.

    The car has around 65 sounds and phrases from the movie that for the most part sound realistic if a little tinny.  Build quality was good but I would be a little concerned about longevity depending on how long you expect it to last.  If your kid is a Disney Cars nut its an easy choice, if not I would doubt that it would keep them entertained for that long.  Overall a great toy but it is pretty much exactly as you would expect.

    Buy Disney Cars 3 Movie Moves Lightening McQueen from Amazon

    8. Hatchimals Glittering Garden

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    Last years knock it out of the park, runaway Christmas toy success was overwhelmingly the Hatchimals toy series.  If you are new to Hatchimals it is essentially a toy animal that you buy inside an egg.  Once the animal has hatched it is born and can’t be put back inside the egg.  You are then supposed to care for the creature Tamagotchi style.

    To be fair this is actually a pretty good gimmick and it has the little ones hooked and inspired as to what is to become of the newly hatched baby creature.  The main appeal is by far the hatching itself and play value does start to wear off after this as happened but the toy continues to be fun to play with.

    Buy Hatchimals Glittering Garden from Amazon

    9. The Paw Patrol Sea Patroller

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-10

    If you have children under 5 there is no doubt that you will know what Paw Patrol is.  The fearless band of canine pups valiantly go about enacting selfless deeds and kids can’t get enough of it.  Last Christmas we bought my 2 year old the Air Patroller and I have to say I was very impressed.  Mainly with the build quality which seems to be something that is shockingly suspect with many of today’s toys.  The Air Patroller in our house is still going strong despite many moving parts and bits that probably deserved to get broken.

    The Sea Patroller is no exception to this and is a tough, sturdy, chunky looking toy.  This toy also has drop down wheels, flashing lights, sound effects and a detachable anchor which little fingers will love to explore.  Overall a little pricey but you get what you pay for and this toy will last.

    Buy The Paw Patrol Sea Patroller from Amazon

    10. Fisher-Price Think and Learn Smart Cycle

     

    Best Must Have Toys Christmas 2018 Childs Birthday

    Our 4 year old absolutely loved this one, it is almost like their own mini arcade game.  You do need a compatible device to attach to the bike (see here) but once you get it connected via bluetooth it is fantastic fun.  The child basically plays the educationally themed games by pedaling and steering the bike.  The most fun mode seemed to be the ‘Drone Zoom’ where the child flies and controls a drone with the bike.  Getting it all setup was fairly easy, you just need to connect the bike to your devices bluetooth (we used an iPad mini 2) and then download the Smart Cycle Mission to tech city app.

    Buy the Think & Learn Smart Cycle from Amazon

    11. The Spider-Man Homecoming Tech Suit action figure

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-14

    The ever popular Spider-Man had yet another motion picture outing this summer and of course along with it comes Spidey’s trusted merchandise collection.  Tech Suit Spider-Man is what I like to call a deluxe action figure in that it is not just an empty molded piece of plastic.  No Tech Suit Spider-Man really does live up to his name and has a variety of built in features.  Spidey has over 40 different words and phrases from the movie which are all activated by varying the motion of his arms.  The arms are fully articulated, not just moving up and down which gives him a more realistic and heroic stance and allows him to be posed in any position.

    At nearly 15 inches in height this toy is big!  For kids that like large, chunky toys it is ideal and may appeal more to slightly younger children.  Another cool feature that Spidey has are his light up eyes, when played in low-light this gave a very cool effect.  He can also shoot his web projectiles like he does in the movie.

    Buy the Spider-Man Homecoming Tech Suit from Amazon

    12. The Playmobil 6000 Royal Lion Knight’s Castle

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-16

    The ever-popular Playmobil Knights series has a huge range of products available ranging from the Playmobil 6002 Wolf Knights Castle all the way up to the Playmobil 3268 Knights Empire Castle.  Sitting firmly at the upper end of the Playmobil scale and as one of the largest toys they sell, this castle is huge and I mean epic huge!  The dimensions listed are 66cm x 56cm x 49cm which may not sound like a great deal until you have it sitting in front of you.

    Take a look at the TV advert for the Knights Empire Castle to get an idea of the scale of these things.

    Some of the really great features of the Royal Lion Knight Castle are the functioning portcullis and draw bridge and the secret trap door into the throne room.  There are some toys that really spark your (ahem I mean your childs) imagination and inspire some great creative and inspired play.  This is definitely one of them as it is like your own version of the film set from Dragonheart.  Typical Playmobil quality applies here so you know what to expect  and the figures included are great fun.

    If you are feeling particularly flush and have two little terrors to keep entertained you could even spring for an additional castle from the range as I have so that you can have battles from opposing armies.  Lining all the troops up and storming each others castle is immensely fun.

    Buy the Playmobil 6000 Royal Lion Knight’s Castle from Amazon

    13. The Amazon Fire Kids Edition

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-17

    Tablets for kids is big business these days for all the major electrical retailers.  When looking for my little ones the main contenders were Apple’s iPad, the Fire Kids Edition and The Leapfrog Epic.  After much deliberation it was decided that the iPad was far too expensive (and not overly kid friendly) and the Leapfrog was too basic and would be outgrown quickly.  This left us with the Fire Kids Edition.

    The Fire Kids feels very sturdy in the hand and includes parent friendly features like a child-lock for certain content. This gives parents piece of mind while children play and watch downloaded content. Some of the other key features are its 8 hour battery life and expandable memory slot, meaning you can extend the storage to 256GB if needed.  We set up access to certain items from own own Kindle app libraries that we wanted to share with the children.  There are literally tons of apps to choose from – around 5000 and all the big names in children’s entertainment are present.

    One of the things I particularly liked about our Fire Kids purchases was that it came with a kid-proof case and a 2 year guarantee that if the kids break them Amazon will replace them for free, no questions asked!  I thought this a bold claim, especially as they had not met my children but the devices are bomb proof so you would have to put in a special effort to break them.

    Overall its been a fantastic high-tech toy (if you can really call it that) any child will get hours of fun from.

    Buy the Fire Kids Edition from Amazon

    14. The Barbie Dream House Playset

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-18

    If you have the space (this thing is huge) and you are really determined to spoil your little princess this Christmas you will be loved forever for splashing out on the Barbie FFY84 (yes not a very catchy product name) Dream House Playset.  If your little one is into Barbie’s this is practically a dream come true.  The Dream House has three floors, seven bedrooms and a working elevator!  There are over 70 accessories including the ‘smart’ accessories.  Smart accessories are basically accessories that have some kind of electronic function.  for instance lights or the aquarium where the fish swim and you can hear the bubbles.

    There are some pretty neat features such as the fact that Barbies 80 inch flat screen TV is actually your smartphone that just fits into a holder.

    It perhaps would have been nice to get at least one Barbie doll with the Dream House but I guess if you are looking at this product you already have a house full of them

    Take a look at some of the features in action below.

    Buy the Barbie Dream House Playset from Amazon

    15. The Imaginext FGF37 ‘DC Super Friends BatBot Xtreme’

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-19

    Because of the size of this toy I’m not really sure you could call an action figure in the traditional sense.  Towering at over 2ft tall the BatBot Xtreme is colossal and nearly as big as your average 3 year old.  If you have young children who are in to Batman the chances are that they already have some of the Imaginext Batman range.  BatBot Xtreme has extendable wings, punching fists, projectile launchers and even a built-in voice changer.

    One of the really features about the Batman Imaginext toys is that the figures are designed to operate mechanisms on certain vehicles and buildings.  On the BatBot Xtreme your Batman figure can be used by placing it on the right shoulder to activate some of the features.  There is also a Batcycle which is released by using one of the power pads and a hidden elevator that can take Batman up to the cockpit.  This toy is a lot of fun and that goes for children of all ages, I would be surprised if my kids aren’t still playing with this long after they leave primary school.

    The BatBot was only released in September 2017 so many people don’t really know it exists yet.  I have a feeling though that when word gets out this is going to be one of the hardest toys to get hold of in the run up to Christmas.  If your little ones are into Batman and haven’t yet experienced Imaginext I would highly recommend this as a way of getting into it.

    Buy the Imaginext FGF37 ‘DC Super Friends BatBot Xtreme from Amazon

    16. The VTech KidiZoom Duo Camera

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-20

    The VTech KidiZoom Duo is a fantastic way to get your little one into photography and to do something educational/creative.  My five year old absolutely loves this device and literally will not stop snapping!  If anything its been more entertaining for us as parents analysing the memory card when full to see all the things he’s been taking pictures of.  In actual fact when using this on holiday some of our best pictures were random snaps taken by junior on his ‘toy’ camera as they were completely natural and fun.

    As you would imagine the camera itself is as durable as they come and has some great extra-grippy rubber grips for little hands to keep hold of.  There are some fun features on the camera like special photo effects, a voice changer and some games.  The front camera is a respectable 2.0MP and the back (selfie) camera is 0.3MP.

    I would highly recommend this as ‘something different’ to open on Christmas day that will provide countless hours of fun and discover when used out and about throughout the year.  The camera is also relatively inexpensive now so a great stocking filler.

    Buy the VTech KidiZoom Duo from Amazon

    17. The Ferrari LaFerrari Remote Control Car

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-22

    This is another inexpensive but great fun toy that will make another great stocking filler.  The LaFerrari remote control car is an amazing looking toy.  If your children are into sports cars the LaFerrari does not disappoint as it is a highly detailed 1:24 replica of an F150 (officially licenced by Ferrari).

    The car itself has a generous 10 meter control range and can burst up to a maximum speed of 12mph!  It is very, very fast!  I would say to the extent that small children or pets should be kept well clear of it as if it picks up speed it can give you a nasty knock.  As the remote controlled car is relatively inexpensive I would highly recommend getting two as I did so that you can race your child.  We have setup an entire race course circuit from the lounge the kitchen and do our own Le-mans style races.  To get the car going make sure that you also have x5 AA batteries in stock as these do not come with it.

    These are huge amounts of fun for not a great deal of money.  The cars also seem to be very durable, having been dropped, crash, stood on and are still going strong.

    Buy the Ferrari LaFerrari Remote Control Car from Amazon

    18. The Xbox One X 1TB Console

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-21

    I know that some parents try to steer their children away from games consoles wherever they can and while I tend to agree that when not used in moderation they can be disruptive, I don’t see any harm in carefully measured/supervised play time now and again.

    The Xbox One X is touted as the most powerful games machine on the planet, boasting 40% more gaming power than any other games console.  There are lots of uninteresting technical details about teraflops, processing power and memory but I guess the key point to take away is that it is a very powerful supercomputer that they have adapted to play games on!  Something that is worth mentioning on the technical side however is that you will get more out of this games console if you have a 4k TV.  You do not need a 4k TV (any TV with an HDMI slot will work) but you will get a clearer/better picture if you do have one.

    Part of the fun of playing on a games console for children is usually playing it with one of their friends.  For that reason I would recommend that you buy an extra wireless controller as you only get one with the console.

    Another benefit to buying the Xbox One X is that you get a builtin Bluray player with the machine.  This of course means that the little ones can happily enjoy their copies of The Emoji Movie or Lego Batman from the Xbox.

    Take a look at what the Xbox One X can do below.

    You will of course also need to buy games that are suitable for children.  For this I would highly recommend any of the Lego games.  They are fun and kid friendly with lots of comedy and puzzles to keep them entertained.

    Buy the Xbox One X 1TB Console from Amazon

    19. The Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-6

    This toy is usually setup in Hamleys in a pride of place spot in the boys toys department with a huge amount of space and complex track layout.  In this setting the toy comes into its own as the premise is essentially a futuristic Mad Max style racing game whereby the aim is also to blast your opponent from the track all controlled using your iPhone/iPad.  In smaller more cramped setups this set is not as much fun, especially if it has to be put away after you play it every single time.

    If however you are more akin to The Wolf of Wallstreet and have your child housed in a 30ft x 30ft bedroom this is the perfect gift and will have them the envy of all the kids in the neighborhood.  You will also need a Wall Street style job in order to be able to afford this toy as the cars alone can set you back the equivalent of a full tank of real car diesel.  Our verdict was, great fun if you have both the space and the budget to keep adding to the sets.

    Take a look at the set in action here – note what we said about play space needed!

    Buy Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition from Amazon

    20. The PJ Masks Deluxe Figure Set

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-24

    This is one for little tykes really probably in the 2-4 age range as by the time they hit 5 they are firmly into Batman, Superman and The Avengers territory.  The PJ masks are essentially a sweet innocent way to get children into superheroes without all the bloodshed and violence!  Based on the Disney Junior TV show this toy pack includes all of the heroes and villains from the little ones favourite TV show.

    Mummys and daddys that have been subjected to (sorry I mean watched enthusiastically) the show with their children will recognise Cat boy, Owlette and Gekko.  Also included are a bunch of pets from the show and some of the accessories seen.  The figures are very good quality and have posable joints.  There are also 16 of them to choose from so there is plenty of longevity in the play value.  If you know a child that loves PJ Masks then you can do no wrong with this set.

    Buy the PJ Masks Deluxe Figure Set from Amazon

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    Why Call of Duty WW2 should see the end of Quickscoping

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    We’ve all been on the receiving end of it and any long term Call of Duty player has most probably even used it themselves sometimes.  The question is, in 2018 and the latest Call of Duty, WW2 should quickscoping still be a part of the game and is it fair play? a glitch? an exploit? or should it just have no place in the game whatsoever?  I have never been compelled to comment on it before but after playing not one, not two but three entire teams of snipers all quickscoping I thought it relevant to pen my thoughts on the subject.

    You can probably guess from the title of the article where my views lie as both a past quickscoper myself and someone who enjoyed racking up kills using it, it is a bad thing for the game and here’s why.

    Sniper dominates all ranges

    Although first and foremost Call of Duty has always been classed as an arcade shooter and not a simulator we all accepted that it was not trying to be true-to-life.  However at the same time we have loved this game for its unique classes, each one having some kind of edge of the over – like a modern take on rock-paper-scissors-stone.  SMG beats sniper, shotgun, LMG and Assault rifle mid to short range.  Assault rifle beats SMG, sniper, shotgun and LMG at mid range.  LMG beats SMG, shotgun and assault rifle at long range.  Shotgun beats all at close range.  Sniper beats all at long range.  This is the part that resonated with me because with quickscoping we suddenly had a new dynamic.  This was that sniper beats all at close range, short range, sometimes mid range and long range.  I think you see the problem.

    All of a sudden we have a weapon, usually in the hands of a seasoned pro at the game now able to destroy opponents with ease at virtually all ranges.

    This video demonstrates how a good quickscoper can beat any other class of weapon in the game

     

    Does the difficulty of performing quickscoping make it acceptable?

    I guess the obvious question with any perceived advantage in any game is – ‘its not an advantage because you can use it too’.  Well I both agree and disagree with this statement.  Quickscoping is certainly not easy to do, it took me a lot of practice to be able to do it and I had by no means mastered it.  Regardless of this I was still able to managed at least 20 kills per game of team deathmatch in Call of Duty WW2 with surprisingly little effort.  The main problem I had with quickscoping was the way it made me feel.  Every kill I managed didn’t feel ‘earned’, I felt cheap and like I was cheating much better players than me using what should have been the correct tool for the job (SMG, Assault rifle, shotgun) but had used a hack to get one over on them.  When using it I received quite a lot of messages not complimenting my play-style but telling me I had been blocked or that I should stop cheating.  To be honest they were correct and deep down I knew it.  I had spent countless hours learning how to cheat people almost akin to a card hustler.  Everyone has access to the same cards but I had manipulated mine to gain an unfair advantage.

    Anyone can learn to quickscope, but its not as easy as you might expect.

     

    What does the modern Call of Duty community make of quickscoping?

    Usually the community is split down the middle on the issue of quickscoping but it seems that with the release of Call of Duty WW2 this has now become very lop-sided.  The number of those in favour of quickscoping seem to be dwindling with more and more angry players venting on sites such as https://community.callofduty.com

    Call-of-Duty-WW2-Quickscoping-1

    Quickscopers often gloat, accusing those who oppose it as jealous.  The argument seems to be very much directed towards the fact that quickscoping has no place in the game due to it not being designed into the game.  Pretty much else in the game was designed to happen and quickscoping is hated so much because it was simply discovered by a player one day by accident.  Typically these anomalies are removed by subsequent patches but this time it was not.  Not only did quickscoping endure it picked up a whole legion of fans who continue to practice it in force today.

     

    Call-of-Duty-WW2-Quickscoping
    Reactions like this are not uncommon in the community

    What can be done about Quickscoping?

    This seems to be the age old question and one that is heavily discussed in forums everyday.  I think that perhaps the best and fairest way to appease players on both sides of the argument would be rethink of the game modes.  If we had traditional Team Deathmatch but also Team Deathmatch – no snipers everybody wins.  Quickscopers can blast each other until their hearts are content and players that enjoy the traditional game without use of this particular play-style can have their ‘fair and square matches’.  The toxicity of the argument mainly seems to stem from the fact that quickscopers are amongst everyday normal players in traditional game modes.  The question is how would the quickscopers feel about this?  I certainly know that when I quickscoped it was no fun coming up against another quickscoper!  It was much easier to gun down a hapless SMG or LMG player.

    Other solutions to the problem are more extreme.  It has been suggested that the game be limited to one sniper per team or that the sniper was a ‘special’ powerup weapon that you receive in a cargo drop.  There is always the option of making a sniper more like how a traditional sniper should be and that they can only hardscope.  This would mean some kind of mighty delay on the time it takes to draw the weapon and aim down the sights.

    Message to the developers

    In short I find Call of Duty WW2 to be a fantastic game and by far the best in the entire series.  In my view the only thing stopping it from becoming perfection and being in reach of gamers of all abilities it is quickscoping.  If somehow you can find a workaround or solution that appeases everybody you will have fans for life.

    Happy gaming all!

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    Why I would NEVER shop at Currys PC World ever again

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    When making a big electrical purchase from a huge retailer like Currys PC World the last thing on your mind is usually searching through bad reviews, problems with the warranty, bad or even terrible service or trouble getting a refund for a faulty item.  These thoughts are usually reserved for smaller stores we haven’t heard of or feel we need to do our due diligence on.  Sometimes I feel the need to leave a review or comment when I feel I have been treated unfairly.  But my treatment by Currys PC World was a whole new level of disgusting service that I had never experienced before in my life

    Currys-PC-World-Teamknowhow-Terrible-Service-8
    Looking through the Teamknowhow reviews after you have purchased is a sickening feeling.

    Currys PC World has become such a huge electrical in-store and online retailer now in the UK that its very name is now practically synonymous with the term ‘electrical items’.  It therefore stands to reason that when in need of a new TV or washing machine it is the first place that many of us Brits will go to instigate a purchase.  I thought that perhaps things had improved since they were voted the worst shop in Britain back in 2010 by Which magazine.  I did initially stop myself from ordering from Currys as friends at work all told me about bad experiences with their aftercare support.  Foolishly however I went with the cheaper option and boy did it cost me in the long run…

    Currys-PC-World-Teamknowhow-Terrible-Service
    Teamknowhow – Curry’s choice of repair center seem to struggle to get any positive feedback

    After researching and checking various websites I finally decided that when buying my son’s Christmas present (a new TV) that I would head over to the Currys website and see what I could find.  I was not disappointed with the choice available, it seemed that they had something to cater for all budgets and in a great variety of sizes.  As our budget was rather limited last year we were mainly looking at the lower end of the scale but the TVs on offer were coming up with good reviews so we finally made a purchase.

    We were then given a delivery date and as promised the TV arrived on time and after a quick power on to check for faults it seemed ok.  That was until Christmas day when I set it up for my son to use and plugged in an HDMI cable.  The problem was not apparent at first but after around an hour the screen would start flickering violently.  A restart of the TV and pushing in all the cables initially seemed to resolve the problem but it then occurred again.  I then purchased a brand new HDMI cable and tested again but the problem persisted.  Just to be sure I tried a 3rd HDMI cable and the problem resurfaced.  Looking in more detail the whole board that the HDMI ports were connected to seemed to have a loose connection.  If you even lightly touched the TV near the HDMI ports the problem occurred.  Whether its relevant or not I am a senior network engineer in my day job so do know a thing or to about troubleshooting a cable fault.

    Well, no problem I thought, its a new product I’ll just call Currys and initiate a repair on the warranty.  This is where the ‘fun’ started.  Just to summarise here is a list of my initial dealings with ‘Teamknowhow’ – this is the company Currys uses to carry out its warranty covered repairs.  All events listed are 100% factual and I have not exaggerated in any way.

    Currys-PC-World-Teamknowhow-Terrible-Service-5
    What should have been an open and shut repair case has turned complex and ugly.

    I first contacted Currys on the 06/01/2018 and reported the above problem, I received a confirmation, reference number and forgot about it thinking it was in hand.  I heard nothing. I then proceed to contact them again on 11/01/2018, 16/01/2018 and the 17/01/2018 and informed them of the above problem and was given a different reference number each time.  This made my case impossible to track and basically cleared my history each time.  I was told in every response someone would get back to me shortly.

    I contacted Currys again on 18/01/2018 and finally managed to arrange a collection for the TV.  I was a bit relieved as I was starting to think that I was being ignored and powerless to do anything about the situation but wait.

    One of the things that really resonated with me with Currys PC World is that they spend so much time and money trying to prove you wrong and disagree with you that it must often overshadow the original purchase price of the product when originally bought.

    The TV was collected (on the agreed date and time) by two (what I can only describe as very rough looking heavies – not their fault I guess but didn’t fill me with confidence) they offered me no documentation in return for the TV, did not package it in anyway and took it outside over his head in the pouring rain. (It was the middle of a thunderstorm).  When I tried to quiz them on the fact that it was not packaged and that it was raining both of the men became very stand-offish and neither of them claimed they could speak English.  My wife and I looked at each other, what an earth had we gotten ourselves into.  As I had no choice and I finally managed to get one of the men to show me a reference number I allowed them to take it out to the van, unprotected and in a heavy thunderstorm.  At this point I said to myself, ‘well if it wasn’t broken before it certainly is now.’

    Currys-PC-World-Teamknowhow-Terrible-Service-4
    A quick look on most popular social media sites reveals a lot about ‘Teamknowhow’

    Later on in the week I received a notification that the TV had arrived at the repair center on 22/01/2018 and engineers were working on the problem.  I thought that this was a good sign and hopefully it would all be over soon.  That was until I received a call at 6PM at night on the Friday evening 26/01/2018 (just before the TV was due to be returned repaired) from a an engineer who I thought to be particularly rude. He proceeded to tell me (not letting me speak) that he had tested the TV and the fault didn’t exist.  He then (without letting me interject) simply said I will be sending it back ‘No fault found’. I then asked to speak to a manager. He said a manager would call me back. Surprise surprise, no call back.

    I then phoned Teamknowhow (Yes I was beginning to doubt the validity of this brand name at this point) and explained this whole situation all over again and was then put on hold. I waited for what seemed like an eternity and was then cut off.  This seemed to be the point that Currys just stopped talking to me.  No matter what I tried I could not get hold of a human being that would be able to help me with my case.  Being a bit of a stickler for principle this is where I began to a) publicise my treatment on Twitter, Facebook and Google + b) Raise a case on Resolver.co.uk c) Write a review on trustpilot.co.uk d) Made 10s of phone calls and countless emails to Teamknowhow.

    Finally I did manage to get a response from a manager but only because I had written a negative review on Trustpilot!  I was given a reference number (on Trustpilot!!!) and then later sent the below email from Teamknowhow:

    ‘Thank you for your email, dated Saturday 27th January.

    I was most concerned to learn of your recent experience, regarding your repair. A case has been logged, reference XXXXXX1284, so that we may note your dissatisfaction.

    Having read through the repair notes, I can confirm there was a number of attempts to contact you from our Repair Centre, as they were unable to replicate the fault reported. I do appreciate your feedback regarding an outstanding manager callback, this is something I will be asking to be look into and investigated with regards to why this was not done.

    With everything that has happened taken into consideration, I regret that unless a fault can be confirmed, we would be unable to comply with your request for a full refund. Your TV is currently scheduled to be returned to you on Tuesday 30th January, and you would be notified of your ETA via SMS notification.

    Going forward, if you are still experiencing issues with your TV upon its return, we can either offer to assess it as a separate booking, or you could confirm a fault via an independent engineer report. If we are unable to confirm a fault, and this independent report was to do so, we can re-assess the situation.

    I am sorry if this is not the response you was looking for. If there is anything else I can help with, please let me know.

    Many Thanks’

    Considering what I had been through with Teamknowhow at this point I was pretty miffed at this response.  All I managed to really get from this is that they had acknowledged the fact that I didn’t get a call back from a manager when promised.  They also seemed to be attacking me for the fact that they had called me whilst I was busy at work and unable to take their call until I had finished.  Hardly the forefront of my concerns though.  It appears that Teamknowhow are simply sending the TV back to me with a ‘No Fault’ sticker plastered all over it and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.  I also thought that their offer for me to get the TV checked by an ‘independent’ engineer (at my expense) was particularly kind of them.  Even with report in hand stating the fault from said engineer I still doubted my chanced of getting this resolved by Teamknowhow.

    I immediately replied highlighting the following points:

    1. I had tested the HDMI ports with a number of cables and proved the fault to exist and shown others (yes I wish I had taken video evidence but I didn’t think it necessary – I will be sure to take some for next time). So by saying that they cannot see the fault and rejecting my claim I can only assume one of two things; a) The engineers haven’t actually tested or looked at the product or b) They have seen the fault but are falsely accusing me of lying.  (I guess option c could be that the fault miraculously disappeared in transit but I highly doubt it).

    Currys-PC-World-Teamknowhow-Terrible-Service-7
    Sadly all to often customers are experiencing the worst levels of service.

    2. The TV was collected, not packaged and taken out into the pouring rain (I know strictly not evidence but a historical whether check shows this to be true for my area.  Again I wish I’d taken photos). I do not want a device returned to me that was treated in this manner.

    3. I understand that essentially this is a ‘my word against yours’ scenario but what did they really think I would have to gain by a) Making up a fault?! b) Depriving my little boy of his TV c) Wasting hours of my team trying to make headway with a customer service team unable and unwilling to help me. All I wanted out of this was the repair I was entitled to under the warranty.

    4. No one consulted us about a delivery time so simply arranging it for a busy week day when people are at work is of course a ridiculous and thoughtless thing to do.  Its obvious that they just wanted the TV out of their repair center ASAP.

    One of the things that really resonated with me with Currys PC World is that they spend so much time and money trying to prove you wrong and disagree with you that it must often overshadow the original purchase price of the product when originally bought.  I mean so far they have employed the use of countless customer service staff, three engineers and three managers.  I’m guess in terms of staff costs this is quite a significant spend for them.  This is something that Amazon and John Lewis seem to understand and treat their customers with respect rather than constantly trying to find fault with what they are saying or trying to wiggle out of honouring warranties.  The constant email replies containing quotes like the below show their lack of interest in helping and desperation to get the faulty product back to me.

    With everything that has happened taken into consideration, I regret that unless a fault can be confirmed, we would be unable to comply with your request for a full refund. Your TV is currently scheduled to be returned to you on Tuesday 30th January, and you would be notified of your ETA via SMS notification. 

    Since the 27/01/2018 I have had no less than 9 emails in what I can only describe as a bullying tone in which in no uncertain terms I am told to accept the fact that Currys/Teamknowhow a) Will not repair the TV b) Do not accept any of the problems I have with the faulty product c) Will not conduct any kind of official electrical safety tests or accept that the heavy rain that their delivery drivers subjected it to might be an issue.  I am still very suspicious about any tests that were conducted and any diagnosis performed.  I am basically told to accept that their engineer is right and that my family and I are imagining that we a have a TV with a flickering screen.  It really is an unbelievable scenario that in the Western world in a civilised society, companies like this are allowed to operate.

    This is another update (24/02/2018) to the case in which I seem to be making progress with Currys but I bought the TV in November and am still without it.  After several more emails/phone calls Currys agreed to take the TV back, repair it and give me a full safety report.  They did this and returned the TV to me, unfortunately the TV was returned with damage in the form of a scratch to the screen and a bad scuff to the bezel.  I contacted Currys again and they have now agreed to replace the TV and have also agreed to compensate me in some way for all he trouble I’ve had.  The main issue I have now is getting the TV back to them.  Between my wife and U we have had to take 4 days off of work waiting for delivery drivers but none have come.  I will post another update with the final outcome of the case when it happens.  See below for images of the damage I noticed, the damage is minor but this was a brand new TV that had no damage wen it left my house – fortunately I took plenty of photos to prove this as I knew this might happen.

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    Minor scratch to the screen upon the TVs return
    Scuff marks to the bezel

    It seems that I am far from being alone with these kinds of issues when dealing with Currys PC World too.  The well respected ‘TrustPilot’ website has over 8,390 reviews from genuine Brits trying to make their voice heard after their ordeals with the firm.  These reviews range from Excellent, Great, Average, Poor all the way to Bad.  A staggering 32% of all of these reviews for Currys PC World receive the worst possible rating of Bad.  A further 10% gave the company a Poor rating with 7% rating it as average.  It seems that Currys PC World management either don’t know or simply do not care about these statistics. I mean after all shouldn’t every company dealing with customers be after a Great or Excellent rating of at least 90%.  Currys PC World manage just 42% at the top tier rating for customer satisfaction.  In actual fact they are listed twice on TrustPilot, once as Teamknowhow and once as just Knowhow.  After 3,413 reviews using the Knowhow name the company managed a staggering 87% in the Bad category! That must have taken some effort.

    Currys are listed again separately on TrustPilot and under this name and 10,795 reviews they manage a 51% Bad rating.  If I had seen these figures before buying the TV I can tell you know I would not be in this situation.

    The situation on other review sites such as reviews.co.uk doesn’t seem to be any better with 65.03% of reviewers giving Currys a 1/5 Star review.  While trying to find out more about the company and understand the way I was being treated I stumbled upon the Teamknowhow staff reviews below and it told me a lot about the company.  Staff comparing their environment to that of a ‘battery chicken’ is hardly conducive to an place where people are likely to be happy and want to help.  While I really feel for their staff it doesn’t help me and the countless others that just want the goods/services that they paid for and no more.

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    It seems that the inherent lack of a will to help customers needs to be addressed at all staff levels.

    Perhaps I should have done more research and more digging before buying from this store (It is always after the purchase you see the bad reviews!).  Most recently the firm has gotten into hot water for hiking prices on sale products,Not giving a refund for faulty washing machine,and exaggerating the ability of its Knowhow cloud backup utility.

    I will continue to update this post with my case and whether or not I actually manage to get the TV repaired properly or a complete refund (which I think at this stage is not unreasonable).  The TV was bought on a credit card so I’m investigating whether a section 75 chargeback is feasible but I’d rather it didn’t come to that.

    It seems like there are many many dissatisfied customers (mainly to do with the aftercare) and this company needs a serious management shakeup if not government intervention to turn it around.  As it currently stands I for one can safely say that I will never purchase from Currys PC World ever again.

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    Woolwich and the Elizabeth line, A forgotten South-east London goldmine?

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    For prospective buyers looking to turn a quick profit or a family home that has good investment prospects you could do a lot worse than Woolwich in South-east London.

    The Elizabeth line is set to cause a bit of a stir in the property market and the prospect of getting on at Woolwich and just four stops later getting off at Liverpool Street is very enticing indeed.  At the stop before Woolwich (Abbeywood) trains will pickup passengers taking then all the way to London Paddington.  The new line boasts an eight minute journey to Canary Wharf and is just 22 minutes from Bond Street.  This is a fantastic shortcut to the heart of London and makes the city far more accessible to Woolwich residents.

    Of course and as with any major infrastructure investment/upgrade there are to be implications on the Woolwich property market.  Property agents CBRE estimate that houses nearer to the station could be set for a 4.5% faster growth rate than at present.  For any prospective buyers in the area this is very welcome news and it stands to reason that anyone buying here will make a decent return on their investment.

    Some notable facts about the largely unknown town are that it was once the Royal Arsenal and the heart of the munitions industry for more than 200 years.  In its peak it was over 1285 acres in size and employed around 80,000 people.  In 1886, Dial Square a group of workers founded the Woolwich Arsenal football club.  The club moved to Highbury in 1913 and decided to just call themselves the now popular Arsenal football club.  They are still known as ‘the gunner’ purely because of their links to the munitions factories.  Geographically Woolwich sits roughly 10 miles south-east of central London.

    A complete list of regeneration projects is listed by Greenwich council here. The regeneration of Woolwich didn’t really start until 2003.  It began with the residential towers of Royal Artillery Quays on the far east side of town, near Thamesmead.  Things started to look noticeably better when the new town square was built and the forward looking Tesco building and flats were developed.  None of this was really enough to entice people to the area until the Royal Arsenal Riverside was built.  To quote some facts, the Royal Arsenal Riverside cost Berkeley Homes £1.2 Billion and created 5,000 new homes to the area.  Unlike some of the towering, concrete monstrosities Woolwich had seen in the past these were tastefully designed and often made use of existing heritage buildings.

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    The Square, sets an attractive scene for the heart of Woolwich

    Like many areas of South-east London Woolwich has some very attractive period properties, many of them from the Victorian era.  To give you a rough idea on price, a fairly sizable Victorian house, about 20 minutes walk from Woolwich train station will set you back around £600,000.  The Royal Riverside flats may appear pricey but when compared to towns only 5 miles closer in they offer remarkable value.  In the Royal Riverside a one bedroom flat costs around £480,000, a two bedroom flat around £635,000 and a three bedroom penthouse could cost you about £1.8 million.  Foxton’s sales manager Christopher Venter stated “Woolwich has been touted as up-and-coming for the last decade, however, that status hasn’t been fully achieved until very recently,”.

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    An artists impression of the new Elizabeth line at Woolwich

    It seems that there are fewer and fewer forgotten gems as the London net ever widens bringing its fast rising property prices with it.  Whilst Woolwich has had its problems in the past it looks like it is ripe to be ‘gentrified’ as the future of the town looks brighter by the day.

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    TV Series Review: Gunpowder (2017)

    (4 / 5)

    In the absence of Game of Thrones I (like many I’m sure) have been pining for a historical drama with some bite.  It is then somewhat ironic that the leading man in Gunpowder is none other than Jon Snow himself Kit Harrington.

    Gunpowder is a three part mini-series from the BBC that tells the story of the period of religious discontent in England in the early 17th Century.  The story is set not long after the death of Henry VIII and all the chaos that he left in his wake.  The year is 1605 and James I sits on the throne.  James I is advised and led by a close group of spies/confidants.  One in particular, Lord Robert Cecil is more ruthless than any of his peers.  Cecil leads the witch hunt against the Catholics and has his sights set on one particular individual, Robert Catesby.

    We see the extent of Sir Robert’s ruthlessness from the very beginning of Gunpowder when he sends his bloodhound Sir William Wade to Robert Catesby’s home in search of Catholic dissidents.  It is from this point that you realise this show is not going to pull any punches and will give it to you with both barrels.  We all know from our GCSE history classes (or trips to the London Dungeon) just how brutal and savage us Brits used to be – especially with those who disagreed with us.

    The show’s researchers had obviously done their homework and opened the series with some very authentic looking, (excruciating painful looking) and difficult to watch torture scenes.  What I particularly liked about Gunpowder was the characters it focused on.  Our main protagonist is Robert Catesby and our chief antagonist Lord Robert Cecil.  The writers did a good job of creating two multifaceted characters.  We understand why Catesby is so driven and passionate about his cause because of the great personal loss he suffered.  We can also understand why Cecil felt compelled to drive out the Catholics and the lengths he was prepared to go to to achieve this goal.  Also of great interest is how the thick plot is gradually revealed uncovering a conspiracy far bigger than any one man.

    I really enjoyed the character of Lord Cecil, ok it was almost cartoon bad guy villainy at times but for the most part Mark Gatiss played him with an intelligent, menacing demeanor that made him a feared enemy.  He gave us an insight into how decisions were made during this period and why confession by torture is no confession at all.  Cecil’s use of capital punishment would have made even the toughest and bravest quiver with fear.

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    The feared Lord Robert Cecil, have you anything to confess?

    Although in a smaller supporting role I think that Liv Tyler deserves a special mention.  I thought she played Anne Vaux convincingly and was the perfect choice for the part.  Aside from some notable TV roles we haven’t really seen Tyler in something as challenging or dynamic as The Lord of the Rings for a long time.  Hopefully this is the start of a big comeback for her and we continue to see her taking on roles like this, perhaps historical in nature as they appear to be her forte.

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    Great to see Liv Tyler on our screens in a role like this

    So what of Guy Fawkes himself?  As I mentioned earlier the show does heavily focus on Robert Catesby and how he is instrumental in the gunpowder plot.  The way that this story is told simply sees Guy Fawkes as a tool to be used by Catesby in enacting his bloody revenge for persecution of his fellow Catholics.  Tom Cullen plays Fawkes well for the small amount of time he has on screen.  I did feel however that in the face of such horrific torture he would not have remained so defiant and aggressive towards his unforgiving hosts.  Perhaps given more screen time we could have seen more depth to his character and cared a bit more for him when the brutal end came.

    Confession/interrogation by torture was a key method used by investigators of the time and does feature heavily in this show.  In fact if you are particularly squeamish I would probably advise giving Gunpowder a miss altogether!  Perhaps the most brutal scene was in the first episode where poor Dorothy Dibdale met her end.  You see Dorothy laid down face up upon a sharp rock, a large board is then placed over her body.  The executioners then place heavy weights on top of the board until the rock protrudes her back and kills her.  Apparently this was actually based on a real life execution of a woman named Margaret Clitherow.  She was executed for the crime of harbouring and aiding Catholic priests.

    Other torture/execution methods to feature in the show are the rack (most frequently), several people are hung, drawn and quartered, burning at the stake and of course pulling fingernails.  I can see why some people would be put off watching a show featuring these kinds of atrocities but I cannot understand the wild backlash that the show has received from the public and some critics.  All I will say on the matter is that firstly this is part of our history and that these things really did happen (probably in afar worse and brutal fashion than we could ever portray on screen).  Secondly as with anything else if you think something may offend you then please don’t watch it.  This is a show about one of the most bloodthirsty periods of British history, I think it would have been hard to make it without these scenes.

    As you would expect with a show of this magnitude, sets, costumes and props are all fantastic and really help to bring 17th century London to life.  I’m sure that if you look hard enough you will find plenty of historical inaccuracies but I accepted the show as a historical drama not a reenactment from the history channel so was more than satisfied.  The make-up artists should get a special mention as the torture and gore scenes that caused so much of a stir only did so because they looked so realistic.

    Overall I think this was a fantastic show did a great job of re-telling the tale of ‘Guy Fawkes’ night right in time for the big day itself.

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    The must have and best toys wanted by kids this Christmas (2017)

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-Featured-Image

    The question asked by parents worldwide when looking to make Christmas special for their little ones, what are the best toys released for this Christmas holiday season?

    The year is 2017, we are in the age of advanced micro-chips, self-driving cars and passenger space flight.  Surely then by now the toys our children are playing with are so ridiculously high tech that they are unrecognisable from the toys that we played with when we were children?

    Fortunately no, toys today are not very far removed from toys back in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  Children still enjoy playing with dolls, Lego and transformers action figures.  While there is a spattering of tech thrown at the toys of today’s world the actual base products are just variations on the same theme that has been enjoyed by generations of children for over 40 years.  Perhaps the toys that have seen the most meteoric rise are in fact the well-known classics that have just gone from strength to strength.  As mums and dads remember playing with these toys themselves they pass on these sentiments in product form to their offspring as each year passes with a retro influenced fondness.

    1. The Lego Ninjago Green Ninja Mech Dragon

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    Love them or hate them Lego movies have become a big feature of 2017 cinema history.  At times they do just seem to be screaming product endorsements but hey, kids seem to love them so – so what.  If like me you have been dragged around Legoland Windsor one too many times your kids will no doubt have spotted this shining green Ninjago Dragon toy strategically placed to be seen as soon as you exit the Lego Ninjago ride.

    If you want a more detailed break-down (excuse the pun) of the Mech Dragon it may be worth paying a visit here where the science of Lego is put to the test.  In a much simpler derivative of this analysis though the toy was fun to put together and play with and for fans of the film it will be welcomed.  Perhaps for slightly older children (youngsters tend to just smash every Lego set into an unrecognisable pile of bricks) it is a great addition to the Lego Ninjago family.

    Buy the Lego Ninjago Green Ninja Mech Dragon from Amazon

    2. The Luvabella doll

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    So you’ve probably heard about it and I’m pretty sure that you’ve also heard about the rather insane price (for a doll) so what an earth is all the hype about?  The price is largely thanks the technology involved in making Luvabella come to life.  Just some of the things she does are learn new words and phrases (up to 100 so could probably outsmart most of the current cabinet ministers) and she has a very affectionate personality which is realised in the way that she moves when you are around.  Luvabella also reacts to her accessories, if you have ever played the Tom cat game on the iPhone I guess you could think of her as a real life version of that.  Watching a child play with Luvabella is quite impressive and they do seem to get a lot out of the interaction.

    Overall a pricey toy but this is a cut above a bog standard, run-of-the-mill doll and has more in common with Data from Star Trek than it does Barbie.  Word on the street (mainly Mumsnet) however is that these dolls have become like gold dust and you have a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of finding one of these available for purchase.  See Luvabella in action here!

    Buy the Luvabella doll from Amazon

    3. The Star Wars Bladebuilders Path of the Force Lightsaber

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    Anyone with boys will undoubtedly already own a number of toy swords/Lightsabers.  The beauty of this toy is that it is highly customisable so the little one can make the decision on whether to turn to good or dark side in an instant.  We liked the ability to change Lightsabre blade colours and the interchangeable accessories.  I would warrant a guess that my two would either break the plastic or the light/sound functionality within minutes but if your child is a bit more conservative with their blows it may last a bit longer.

    See what the sabre can do here:

    Buy the Star Wars Bladebuilders Path of the Force Lightsaber from Amazon

    4. Dance and Move BeatBo

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    Its not all about toys for big kids!  This funky little robot shakes his hips and nods his head to the music.  All designed to enhance baby’s motor skills BeatBo has music, songs, phrases, lights and many different bright colors to stimulate the tiny one’s senses.  BeatBo also has a record function which he can mix into a song.  I would just like to take this opportunity to say that when tested BeatBo no rude words were used and that when baby is asleep this should not be played with after any alcohol is consumed (!).  Joking aside its a pretty good baby toy and relatively inexpensive so its easy to see why it sells so well.

    Buy Dance and Move BeatBo from Amazon

    5. Fingerlings

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    A bit of a surprise hit this one that no one saw coming.  I mean the premise of the toys is very basic, its essentially a small toy that clips on to your finger, makes noises and moves a bit.  However it has taken the world by storm!  Just try and get hold of an official WowWee fingerlings toy anywhere and you will just be staring at the sign where they used to be and an empty shelf.  Ask a toy retailer about a WowWee Fingerling? they will laugh you out of the building for your absurd and ridiculous attempt at buying something that for all many of us know doesn’t even exist – they have become that rare.

    See the Fingerlings in action!

    So a bit more about the toy itself, as discussed the Fingerling grabs hold of your finger and responds to sound and motion.  Fingerlings also have blinking eyes, turn their heads, make silly noises and blow kisses at you.  To be fair they are very cute, but why they have become hyped out of existence is beyond me.  Kids absolutely LOVE them.  Some of the big plus points with this toy are that it is extremely durable so will most probably last a while, it is small (great for car journeys) and the batteries last forever.

    Buy a WowWee Fingerling from Amazon (if you should be so lucky!)

    6. The FurReal Roarin’ Tyler

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    As toys begin to get more and more advanced what was once state of the art technology worth tens of thousands of pounds has now become something that costs the equivalent of a night out on the town.  Tyler, simply put is awesome.  This little guy has to be seen to be believed, for fans of the original Gremlins movie (stay with me here) having Tyler on my lap while watching TV almost felt like I have my own real life Gizmo – he is soooo cute!

    Whilst Tyler is expensive this toy is something special and should only really be given to a child that really looks after their toys or is gentle of nature.  What you have here is basically a cute, lovable teddy bear that moves and makes sweet sounds all to love you right back.

    Here is little Tyler in action, I think you’ll agree that the cuteness is off the scale!

    Buy FurReal Roarin’ Tyler from Amazon

    7. The Disney Cars 3 Movie Moves Lightening McQueen

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    Considering that this toy comes in a lot cheaper than most of the other popular toys on offer this year it is actually very impressive.  Movie Moves Lightening McQueen reacts to motion and can move in all directions.  Most impressive was the way that his eyes moved in the same way that they do in the movies giving this toy a very realistic edge.

    The car has around 65 sounds and phrases from the movie that for the most part sound realistic if a little tinny.  Build quality was good but I would be a little concerned about longevity depending on how long you expect it to last.  If your kid is a Disney Cars nut its an easy choice, if not I would doubt that it would keep them entertained for that long.  Overall a great toy but it is pretty much exactly as you would expect.

    Buy Disney Cars 3 Movie Moves Lightening McQueen from Amazon

    8. Hatchimals Glittering Garden

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    Last years knock it out of the park, runaway Christmas toy success was overwhelmingly the Hatchimals toy series.  If you are new to Hatchimals it is essentially a toy animal that you buy inside an egg.  Once the animal has hatched it is born and can’t be put back inside the egg.  You are then supposed to care for the creature Tamagotchi style.

    To be fair this is actually a pretty good gimmick and it has the little ones hooked and inspired as to what is to become of the newly hatched baby creature.  The main appeal is by far the hatching itself and play value does start to wear off after this as happened but the toy continues to be fun to play with.

    Buy Hatchimals Glittering Garden from Amazon

    9. The Paw Patrol Sea Patroller

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-10

    If you have children under 5 there is no doubt that you will know what Paw Patrol is.  The fearless band of canine pups valiantly go about enacting selfless deeds and kids can’t get enough of it.  Last Christmas we bought my 2 year old the Air Patroller and I have to say I was very impressed.  Mainly with the build quality which seems to be something that is shockingly suspect with many of today’s toys.  The Air Patroller in our house is still going strong despite many moving parts and bits that probably deserved to get broken.

    The Sea Patroller is no exception to this and is a tough, sturdy, chunky looking toy.  This toy also has drop down wheels, flashing lights, sound effects and a detachable anchor which little fingers will love to explore.  Overall a little pricey but you get what you pay for and this toy will last.

    Buy The Paw Patrol Sea Patroller from Amazon

    10. The Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar

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    Lego has just seen a non-stop rise in popularity in recent years, partly thanks to its big budget movie counter-parts and partly to its ability to make fun affordable toys.  The Lego advent calendar is a fantastic way to make the build up to Christmas fun while at the same time spoiling your Lego mad child to a Lego Star Wars figure on each day of December.

    Although some parents may balk at the price of this ‘advent’ calendar you have to remember that this is effectively a Christmas themed Lego set so is actually not bad value.  The quality of the figures is very good (not Christmas cracker style) and the excitement it provides is priceless.  Overall if you are looking to make Christmas that extra bit special and have a Lego Star Wars fan in the house, you can’t go wrong with this.

    Buy the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar from Amazon

    11. The Spider-Man Homecoming Tech Suit action figure

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-14

    The ever popular Spider-Man had yet another motion picture outing this summer and of course along with it comes Spidey’s trusted merchandise collection.  Tech Suit Spider-Man is what I like to call a deluxe action figure in that it is not just an empty molded piece of plastic.  No Tech Suit Spider-Man really does live up to his name and has a variety of built in features.  Spidey has over 40 different words and phrases from the movie which are all activated by varying the motion of his arms.  The arms are fully articulated, not just moving up and down which gives him a more realistic and heroic stance and allows him to be posed in any position.

    At nearly 15 inches in height this toy is big!  For kids that like large, chunky toys it is ideal and may appeal more to slightly younger children.  Another cool feature that Spidey has are his light up eyes, when played in low-light this gave a very cool effect.  He can also shoot his web projectiles like he does in the movie.

    Buy the Spider-Man Homecoming Tech Suit from Amazon

    12. The Playmobil 6000 Royal Lion Knight’s Castle

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    The ever-popular Playmobil Knights series has a huge range of products available ranging from the Playmobil 6002 Wolf Knights Castle all the way up to the Playmobil 3268 Knights Empire Castle.  Sitting firmly at the upper end of the Playmobil scale and as one of the largest toys they sell, this castle is huge and I mean epic huge!  The dimensions listed are 66cm x 56cm x 49cm which may not sound like a great deal until you have it sitting in front of you.

    Take a look at the TV advert for the Knights Empire Castle to get an idea of the scale of these things.

    Some of the really great features of the Royal Lion Knight Castle are the functioning portcullis and draw bridge and the secret trap door into the throne room.  There are some toys that really spark your (ahem I mean your childs) imagination and inspire some great creative and inspired play.  This is definitely one of them as it is like your own version of the film set from Dragonheart.  Typical Playmobil quality applies here so you know what to expect  and the figures included are great fun.

    If you are feeling particularly flush and have two little terrors to keep entertained you could even spring for an additional castle from the range as I have so that you can have battles from opposing armies.  Lining all the troops up and storming each others castle is immensely fun.

    Buy the Playmobil 6000 Royal Lion Knight’s Castle from Amazon

    13. The Amazon Fire Kids Edition

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-17

    Tablets for kids is big business these days for all the major electrical retailers.  When looking for my little ones the main contenders were Apple’s iPad, the Fire Kids Edition and The Leapfrog Epic.  After much deliberation it was decided that the iPad was far too expensive (and not overly kid friendly) and the Leapfrog was too basic and would be outgrown quickly.  This left us with the Fire Kids Edition.

    The Fire Kids feels very sturdy in the hand and includes parent friendly features like a child-lock for certain content. This gives parents piece of mind while children play and watch downloaded content. Some of the other key features are its 8 hour battery life and expandable memory slot, meaning you can extend the storage to 256GB if needed.  We set up access to certain items from own own Kindle app libraries that we wanted to share with the children.  There are literally tons of apps to choose from – around 5000 and all the big names in children’s entertainment are present.

    One of the things I particularly liked about our Fire Kids purchases was that it came with a kid-proof case and a 2 year guarantee that if the kids break them Amazon will replace them for free, no questions asked!  I thought this a bold claim, especially as they had not met my children but the devices are bomb proof so you would have to put in a special effort to break them.

    Overall its been a fantastic high-tech toy (if you can really call it that) any child will get hours of fun from.

    Buy the Fire Kids Edition from Amazon

    14. The Barbie Dream House Playset

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-18

    If you have the space (this thing is huge) and you are really determined to spoil your little princess this Christmas you will be loved forever for splashing out on the Barbie FFY84 (yes not a very catchy product name) Dream House Playset.  If your little one is into Barbie’s this is practically a dream come true.  The Dream House has three floors, seven bedrooms and a working elevator!  There are over 70 accessories including the ‘smart’ accessories.  Smart accessories are basically accessories that have some kind of electronic function.  for instance lights or the aquarium where the fish swim and you can hear the bubbles.

    There are some pretty neat features such as the fact that Barbies 80 inch flat screen TV is actually your smartphone that just fits into a holder.

    It perhaps would have been nice to get at least one Barbie doll with the Dream House but I guess if you are looking at this product you already have a house full of them

    Take a look at some of the features in action below.

    Buy the Barbie Dream House Playset from Amazon

    15. The Imaginext FGF37 ‘DC Super Friends BatBot Xtreme’

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-19

    Because of the size of this toy I’m not really sure you could call an action figure in the traditional sense.  Towering at over 2ft tall the BatBot Xtreme is colossal and nearly as big as your average 3 year old.  If you have young children who are in to Batman the chances are that they already have some of the Imaginext Batman range.  BatBot Xtreme has extendable wings, punching fists, projectile launchers and even a built-in voice changer.

    One of the really features about the Batman Imaginext toys is that the figures are designed to operate mechanisms on certain vehicles and buildings.  On the BatBot Xtreme your Batman figure can be used by placing it on the right shoulder to activate some of the features.  There is also a Batcycle which is released by using one of the power pads and a hidden elevator that can take Batman up to the cockpit.  This toy is a lot of fun and that goes for children of all ages, I would be surprised if my kids aren’t still playing with this long after they leave primary school.

    The BatBot was only released in September 2017 so many people don’t really know it exists yet.  I have a feeling though that when word gets out this is going to be one of the hardest toys to get hold of in the run up to Christmas.  If your little ones are into Batman and haven’t yet experienced Imaginext I would highly recommend this as a way of getting into it.

    Buy the Imaginext FGF37 ‘DC Super Friends BatBot Xtreme from Amazon

    16. The VTech KidiZoom Duo Camera

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-20

    The VTech KidiZoom Duo is a fantastic way to get your little one into photography and to do something educational/creative.  My five year old absolutely loves this device and literally will not stop snapping!  If anything its been more entertaining for us as parents analysing the memory card when full to see all the things he’s been taking pictures of.  In actual fact when using this on holiday some of our best pictures were random snaps taken by junior on his ‘toy’ camera as they were completely natural and fun.

    As you would imagine the camera itself is as durable as they come and has some great extra-grippy rubber grips for little hands to keep hold of.  There are some fun features on the camera like special photo effects, a voice changer and some games.  The front camera is a respectable 2.0MP and the back (selfie) camera is 0.3MP.

    I would highly recommend this as ‘something different’ to open on Christmas day that will provide countless hours of fun and discover when used out and about throughout the year.  The camera is also relatively inexpensive now so a great stocking filler.

    Buy the VTech KidiZoom Duo from Amazon

    17. The Ferrari LaFerrari Remote Control Car

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-22

    This is another inexpensive but great fun toy that will make another great stocking filler.  The LaFerrari remote control car is an amazing looking toy.  If your children are into sports cars the LaFerrari does not disappoint as it is a highly detailed 1:24 replica of an F150 (officially licenced by Ferrari).

    The car itself has a generous 10 meter control range and can burst up to a maximum speed of 12mph!  It is very, very fast!  I would say to the extent that small children or pets should be kept well clear of it as if it picks up speed it can give you a nasty knock.  As the remote controlled car is relatively inexpensive I would highly recommend getting two as I did so that you can race your child.  We have setup an entire race course circuit from the lounge the kitchen and do our own Le-mans style races.  To get the car going make sure that you also have x5 AA batteries in stock as these do not come with it.

    These are huge amounts of fun for not a great deal of money.  The cars also seem to be very durable, having been dropped, crash, stood on and are still going strong.

    Buy the Ferrari LaFerrari Remote Control Car from Amazon

    18. The Xbox One X 1TB Console

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-21

    I know that some parents try to steer their children away from games consoles wherever they can and while I tend to agree that when not used in moderation they can be disruptive, I don’t see any harm in carefully measured/supervised play time now and again.

    The Xbox One X is touted as the most powerful games machine on the planet, boasting 40% more gaming power than any other games console.  There are lots of uninteresting technical details about teraflops, processing power and memory but I guess the key point to take away is that it is a very powerful supercomputer that they have adapted to play games on!  Something that is worth mentioning on the technical side however is that you will get more out of this games console if you have a 4k TV.  You do not need a 4k TV (any TV with an HDMI slot will work) but you will get a clearer/better picture if you do have one.

    Part of the fun of playing on a games console for children is usually playing it with one of their friends.  For that reason I would recommend that you buy an extra wireless controller as you only get one with the console.

    Another benefit to buying the Xbox One X is that you get a builtin Bluray player with the machine.  This of course means that the little ones can happily enjoy their copies of The Emoji Movie or Lego Batman from the Xbox.

    Take a look at what the Xbox One X can do below.

    You will of course also need to buy games that are suitable for children.  For this I would highly recommend any of the Lego games.  They are fun and kid friendly with lots of comedy and puzzles to keep them entertained.

    Buy the Xbox One X 1TB Console from Amazon

    19. The Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-6

    This toy is usually setup in Hamleys in a pride of place spot in the boys toys department with a huge amount of space and complex track layout.  In this setting the toy comes into its own as the premise is essentially a futuristic Mad Max style racing game whereby the aim is also to blast your opponent from the track all controlled using your iPhone/iPad.  In smaller more cramped setups this set is not as much fun, especially if it has to be put away after you play it every single time.

    If however you are more akin to The Wolf of Wallstreet and have your child housed in a 30ft x 30ft bedroom this is the perfect gift and will have them the envy of all the kids in the neighborhood.  You will also need a Wall Street style job in order to be able to afford this toy as the cars alone can set you back the equivalent of a full tank of real car diesel.  Our verdict was, great fun if you have both the space and the budget to keep adding to the sets.

    Take a look at the set in action here – note what we said about play space needed!

    Buy Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition from Amazon

    20. The PJ Masks Deluxe Figure Set

    Best-Must-Have-Toys-Christmas-2017-24

    This is one for little tykes really probably in the 2-4 age range as by the time they hit 5 they are firmly into Batman, Superman and The Avengers territory.  The PJ masks are essentially a sweet innocent way to get children into superheroes without all the bloodshed and violence!  Based on the Disney Junior TV show this toy pack includes all of the heroes and villains from the little ones favourite TV show.

    Mummys and daddys that have been subjected to (sorry I mean watched enthusiastically) the show with their children will recognise Cat boy, Owlette and Gekko.  Also included are a bunch of pets from the show and some of the accessories seen.  The figures are very good quality and have posable joints.  There are also 16 of them to choose from so there is plenty of longevity in the play value.  If you know a child that loves PJ Masks then you can do no wrong with this set.

    Buy the PJ Masks Deluxe Figure Set from Amazon

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    TV Series Review: The Walking Dead – Season 8 – Episode 1 – Mercy

    TV-Series-Review-The-Walking-Dead-S08E01
    (2 / 5)

     

    I feel that before I can really review The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 1 I need to explain why it deserves this critique and how the show’s status has managed to reach this stage.

    There have been a number of high profile antagonists in The Walking Dead to date.  Lets just recap who they were and how they were used.  In Season one we had Merle and things moved fast, he was instantly despicable and possessed all the qualities of a great villain.  He was a racist, drug addicted and exploded at every opportunity.  In Season two we had Shane, expertly played by Jon Bernthal, Shane was someone that instantly put you on edge.  His every move had you questioning his motives and he was genuinely someone to fear, especially when he started to make a move for Rick’s family.

    Season 3 and 4 saw the introduction of The Governor.  Not as complex, nor did he feel as realistic as Shane, he was still a worthy villain but it was in his presence that things started to go very, very wrong for the show.  It was in season 3 that we saw the birth of the ‘filler’ episodes as they are known in the media industry.  Roughly translated these are episodes where very little money is spent, very few actors are used and the writing is done quickly and cheaply.  One particular example of this is Season 4 episode 12 ‘Still’.  I still don’t understand why these episodes are made they are only of detriment to the show which would be better of with only 8 good episodes.

    TV-Series-Review-The-Walking-Dead-S08E01-1
    This episode promised so much but never delivered

    Season 5 was a little better and moved at a better pace than 2 or 3.  It saw the introduction of the Terminus and its cannibalistic inhabitants.  Gareth was a chilling character at times but again he lacked the depth, realism and tension that Shane brought to the table.

    Then finally a god send!  After episode upon episode of badly written scenes that you could almost see the actors wincing through we see the introduction of Negan.  Season 6 episode 16 was masterfully crafted and filled with extreme horror, high tension and outright despair as we see our beloved group ripped apart by this new ferocious and unrelenting masochist.  Because of this we went into season 7 expecting great things.  Sadly great things did not materialise and The Walking Dead continued exploiting premises and threats rather than anything actually happening for the majority of the season.  The problem with this was that by the end of the season we had started to lose sympathy for and care less about the characters.  As scene after scene drones on without incident we find ourselves willing something to happen, anything.

    When that something finally came, it was a hugely anti-climatic and devoid of any of the things that made the show’s big villain showdowns great.  After a huge focus on Sasha (lets face it most people are not big fans) we are treated to a wildly underwhelming battle in which our heroes should not have prevailed.  The entire battle scene was just a mess, poor cgi, badly choreographed and at times ridiculous.  Game of Thrones this is not.

    So after this strange mish-mash of poor writing, cheap looking scenes and effects with a spattering of watchable characters what were we expecting from Season 8?

    Knowing the fan’s reactions to the corner cutting from online reviews/forums etc. you would think that season 8 episode one’s approach would be an entirely revised formula.  You would be wrong.  Rick round’s up his followers in the fashion of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, wielding motivating speeches and attempts at saying anything remotely profound.  Sadly the producers have looked at the problems that the show has developed and decided that the way to fix it is to turn it into an 80’s Arnie movie.  Yes if you like zero character development, corny dialogue and all guns blazing then you will probably enjoy this.  As Rick and his team roll into Negan’s lair A-team style with corrugated iron clad vehicles you feel no sense of fear, anticipation or excitement.  This is Negan!  He is a suppose to be one tough hombre, where are all his tricks and subterfuge that made him so formidable when he was introduced?  No, we are treated to nothing but guns blasting at Negan’s fragile looking home for the bulk of the show.

    TV-Series-Review-The-Walking-Dead-S08E01-2
    We were expecting big things after the season 7 finale

    Then we have the arc of the episode, Negan is in trouble he’s pinned down.  This is the man that tortured you, your friends, even your son.  You have him, all you have to do is get past a few of the (now ridiculously inept) walkers and finish him off.  Surely you would take that chance to be rid of this foul and persistent thorn in your side, especially now that you’ve won?  No instead we see our hapless hero take the advice of the priest and head off back to base so that he doesn’t break a nail.

    That is pretty much how the episode ends, except for one more motivational ‘America, f*ck yeah’ style speech from Rick that in that situation no one would make.  If you are still watching at this point the now useless and uninspiring bad buy Negan finds himself trapped in a trailer with our good friend Father Gabriel (who we should have said goodbye to a long time ago).  This was the show’s only attempt to try and win you over to come back next week for more.  I’m really not sure where they can take the show from here.  The Walking Dead when first announced with Frank Darabont ascribing was something special and to be revered.  Sadly now it ranks amongst the typical Hollywood dross that is not designed to be intelligent or thought provoking.  This is a huge shame as The Walking Dead was something special and something I knew I was going to enjoy.  Now like many others I find myself watching it in the anticipation that it will get back to its roots and concentrate on quality rather than quantity.  This is why people stick with The Walking Dead, when on form it is amazing.  I just don’t understand why everything in-between has to be of such poor quality.

  • in ,

    Movie Review: Jungle (2017)

    Movie-Review-The-Jungle
    (3 / 5)

    There were several things drawing me to this movie when I initially saw the trailer, one of which was the man vs nature scenario which when done well can be immensely exciting to watch.  In recent times we have had many good examples of this such as Everest, The Grey and The Revenant.  Another big draw was of course Daniel Radcliffe who has now proven beyond doubt that he is no one trick pony.  There is the director Greg McLean who is responsible for such edgy, slightly whacky and often terrifying films such as Wolf Creek.  Lastly is the fact that this is based on a true story and book written by the movie’s main protagonist.  I was therefore intrigued to see how this might all come together and whether this had the makings of one of the great man vs nature movies of our time.

    One big surprise to me, once the film had started was that Daniel Radcliffe was playing an Israeli – named Yossi Ghinsberg.  I was initially concerned as if his accent wasn’t acceptable or his acting of a sufficient standard this otherwise serious drama would just appear absurd.  Thankfully it is quite the opposite.  Daniel Radcliffe couldn’t have distanced himself from the hapless young wizard at Hogwarts any more than he does in this movie.  Within 20 minutes I had forgotten it was Daniel Radcliffe at all and he became his character, mastering the accent and mannerisms of the great adventurer his character is based on.

    Movie-Review-The-Jungle-1
    The rain is a constant feature in this story of survival
    For the most part the supporting cast in this movie does very well, most notably the great Thomas Kretschmann who some may remember as the valiant Captain Englehorn in the 2005 King Kong movie.  Kretschmann plays the experienced slightly mysterious guide to our three young adventurers, keen to step off he well beaten track and see something unique.  Along side Radcliffe are Alex Russell (Kevin) and Joel Jackson (Marcus). Kevin is the brash (rude and slightly annoying) American and Marcus is more or less Kevin’s weaker, less interesting sidekick.  Russell and Jackson do their part but nothing more, they are outshone at every turn by Radcliffe and Kretschmann who to be honest have elevated the status of this movie by some way.

    The movie does take a while to get going and there are lot of introductory scenes where we are treated to some stunning jungle shots of the Amazon.  For the most part these scenes to add value to the movie and show the extent and vastness of the rain forests.  After a while though it did start to feel like the scenes had been overused and that better placement could have helped with the overall dramatisation of the plot as was done with Everest.

    When the movie does get going it really kicks into gear and there are some very frantic and ‘as if you were there’ scenes filmed in the river rapids that really made you feel for the unfortunate party as they found themselves moving deeper and deeper in to the dense jungle.  Also of note are the climbing scenes where Daniel Radcliffe has to get himself over the cliff and away from the river. These were some of the most dramatic in the movie.

    Despite the epic location and the stunning scenery which is all very well shot, perhaps the best parts of the movie are the jungle nasties that plague poor Yossi at every turn.  By this I mean; ants, snakes, leaches, Jaguars, mosquitoes and perhaps the worst thorn in his side the jungle foot rot which he seemed unable to escape for the duration of his ordeal.  Daniel Radcliffe does a wonderful job of making you believe he is in real peril and judging by his frail physique had to lose a fair amount of weight as filming progressed (there wasn’t much of him to start with!).  The peril very quickly turns to realisation, frustration and despair as he begins to hallucinate.  Yossi Ghinsberg’s fighting spirit came through though and despite all that he faced and against all odds he fought on to try and find his way home.

    There were several scenes in the movie that felt like they could have been left out altogether.  For instance the hallucination about the native tribal girl (who looked distinctively western) or another one showing a buffalo in a fast food store.  They do nothing to enhance the story or feel of the movie and simply feel like they are there to pad the film out.  There is then the story itself, while it may be based on a true story it is drastically lacking any kind of depth that would make you feel and root for its characters.  By this I mean we see four guys trek into the jungle, untrained, unprepared and with an oddball stranger – good start.  This is the Amazon, they would be lucky to survive this alone.  But to try and enhance their chance of death they then decide upon a cruise down a lethal river fraught with rapids and razor sharp rock upon a pile of sticks? (Darwin awards spring to mind).  In this situation it was just hard to feel for them as they were their own worst enemies.

    I also felt like the overplayed tension between Karl and Kevin took away rather than adding to the movie.  I just couldn’t understand why a person who was totally reliant on another for their survival would want to antagonise that person as much as possible – to the point where they walked off and left them.  This just felt completely unrealistic and any feelings you had for either character faded fast.  The trio of friends all seemed to turn on each other far too quickly and without much explanation, other than ‘we need to keep going’.

    Ultimately this was a good survival story but only for a few moments in the movie did I find it tense and exciting.  It is perhaps more on par with Robert Redford’s ‘All is Lost’ than a thrill ride like The Revenant or Everest.  What is did showcase was Daniel Radcliffe’s ability to turn his hand to more or less any role and the beauty and wonder on offer in one of the world’s last places of mystery, The Amazon rain forest.

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